Archive for October, 2009

October 31st, 2009

2009 Election Analysis: Tax Collector

by LonSeidman

Update: Ms. McQueen writes an insightful response to this post below giving more depth and information to the legal aspects of tax collection than was originally included. It is well-written and should be considered before you vote!!!

Tax Collector
This race is more heated than the mayor’s race where 36 year incumbent Lorraine McQueen facing a strong challenge by Vanessa Malena. Malena has worked as a debt collector for a private firm and asserts that there are publicly available ways to track down tax scouflaws not already being utilized. In response to Malena’s claims that McQueen has neglected to collect 1.7 million dollars in back taxes, McQueen asserts that those people oweing those taxes simply cannot be found, have died, or gone out of business.

McQueen has prided her office in being approachable to taxpayers in a fair manner, particularly when faced with hardships. Yet, she has come under scrutiny when she gave her Suspense List report to the Town Council in both 2008 and 2009. The suspense list is supposed to tax debt owed that is deemed ‘uncollectable’. A reason is noted why a debtor cannot be located. Yet, in 2008 one person who ran for local office – and sat on one town commission – was on that list. Another owned a business in town. The 2009 list included a relative of the assistant tax collector’s daughter. Further, in August and September 2009, Ms. McQueen appeared before the Town Council to give information and presumably approval for a tax lien on a property on Wolcott Rd. The rightful owner of the property could not be located and relatives of the deceased former owner were not interested in the property. While being compassionate to a person occupying the property, the discussion between the Tax Collector, Sherriff, and Town Council members was to move ahead on a tax lien. Yet, Ms. McQueen didn’t have the proper address for the residence. Instead of looking the address up, she guessed the address. A Councilman corrected her in noting that the address she presented was at least half a mile north of the location she was referring to. Sometime after the meeting the correct address was found. Thankfully the town avoided a serious legal error.

In the positive column, Ms. McQueen is well liked and very approachable. “My office is open to any taxpayer” she said at a recent forum. For town leaders, she has been very timely with information that they need. Residents who have been affected by layoffs and cut backs in their employment have approached the taxpayers’ office to work out payment plans. This year, the Republican dominated Town Council set the tax collection rate at $100,000 higher than last year’s goal. So far, McQueen has already met 83% of that goal only 3 months into the fiscal year. This included a significant agreement of back taxes owed by Devon Manufacturing who had some financial difficulty. Devon is one of the top taxpayers in town.

Malena has been coming on strong in the final days of the campaign. At the Meet The Candidates’ forum, she noted that she has the same compassion that Ms. McQueen where neither has any desire to throw residents out on the street for taxes. Neither wants to see businesses move out either because of financial hardship. She also noted with respect Ms. McQueen’s 36 years of service -a turnaround from earlier in the campaign when some of her signs referred to McQueen as having “36 years of failure”. She continued to note her experience as a debt collector for a private firm that collects on multimillion dollar collections from all over North America, Asia and Europe.

That experience certainly gives her plenty of ideas on how to find people who may not want to be found. In a flyer mailed to residents on Friday, she outlined her proposals for collecting taxes. Those included better exchanging information with other towns, working with the Superintendant of Schools and Registrars of Voters to find when people move out of town, and obtaining change of address information from the Post Office.

That same campaign flyer mailed to Wolcott residents Friday by Malena’s campaign also outlined some negative campaigning. Presented in the form of a playbill, it outlined percieved connections between McQueen, former Democratic Chairman John McCarthy, Assistant Tax Collector Cheryl Brundage, and Town Councilman Santagotta. She notes that Brundage – McQueen’s daughter – has a relative on the 2009 suspense list, and is listed as “unable to be found”. McCarthy’s tax problem has been public knowledge for many years, but he has been making payments for quite some time. Santagotta is being pulled into this fray as the chairman of the Delinquent Tax sub-committee of the Council. That committee did meet at least once prior to the budget was approved this year. She also accuses of Santagotta of having plenty of time to launch state elections investigations against independent candidates for sign violations. This echos similar complaints Santagotta launched against Council Republicans shortly after Republicans took hold of the Council after the 2007 elections.

In that case, charges were filed that Republicans held an illegal meeting when unnaffiliated member Michael Bokon wished to join Republicans in a caucus. It wasn’t known to him or Republicans at the time that Mr. Bokon would need to make his caucus preference official by notifying the Town Clerk. A State ethics board ruled the meeting was illegal because 5 Council members had met together and Democrats were not invited or included. Ultimatly, they provided minutes of the time they were together for about 2 minutes.

In a profession that was ridiculed in the days of Jesus Christ, the Tax collector’s position certainly has garnerd much of the limelight in town. The voters will need to decide who should have the job of collecting their own hard-earned money for needed town services. Certainly you don’t want someone who is too harsh as to be unworkable. Conversely, you don’t someone who is too lenient in their job – because then civic minded residents end up paying more for those who don’t pay at all.

Trying to skim through the negative campaign, Malena’s straight forward presentation of how one could find tax offenders is clear. Whether or not McQueen already employes these methods is the question. Both have called for new technology, and McQueen says that new technology is just about ready to be implemented. Malena seems to have experience in pursuing debtors that would be inherent in a tax office. In the end, it may come down to personality and whether or not voters believe the connections between McQueen and other Democrats as being a scandal, incidental, or if they really matter to the job. In any campaign for the job of bringing revenue into the town, trust may become the most important factor in voters’ decisions on Tuesday.

Response:
by Lorraine McQueen

Ms. Malena may work for a private firm in collections, but be aware the laws are very different for public and private collections. I use all the enforcement tools available to me by law to collect current and delinquent taxes with the exclusion of throwing people out on the street. Since July 1, 2009 I have collected $650,000 in delinquent taxes. I have an open door policy for all taxpayers and everyone is treated honestly, fair and equal. I encourage taxpayers to meet with me to discuss how they are going to be able to pay their taxes.

I have never said that all the people owing taxes cannot be found, have died or gone out of business. That is true about some but not all. Some people have filed bankruptcy which stops all collection actions against those individuals. Other people are contacted by the tax office over and over again and ignore all attempts for me to collect their Delinquent MV taxes. They have been put on the DMV Delinquent list and don’t care. They register their cars under other people’s names, they change their names or they just don’t get another car. I go to work every day to collect taxes; that is my job I work hard at it and take my job very seriously. I have a consistently high collection rate of 99% or better. If taxes were not being collected the town would be running in the red and in a deficit instead of a surplus every year.

For the record lets’ discuss what the suspense list is. A suspense list is required by state statute to be supplied to the Finance Board of the Town (Town Council) every year and must be accepted by the Council. A suspense list is comprised of mostly MV taxes that have gone unpaid for more than 3 years, the usual registration renewal period. The person has been placed on the DMV delinquent list so they cannot register a MV without a release from the Tax Collector of Wolcott or any other town where they may be delinquent. Putting something on suspense does not stop any collection actions or my ability to collect the tax payment; it removes the value from the Grand List so when the Town Council is calculating the mill rate they have an accurate number to use for collectables to set the mill rate. As for the relative, of the Assistant Tax Collector this person has been placed on the DMV delinquent list just like everyone else and has not had a vehicle registered in his name since 2006 when his last registration expired. The soft ware used in my office does not allow you to pick and choose who gets put on the delinquent list. Anyone with an open balance get put on the DMV delinquent list. The put-ons are done twice a year after the July collections and after the January collections. Take-offs are done monthly as the people on the delinquent list pay their taxes they are taken off the DMV list.

My opponent says she has new ideas and a new vision for Wolcott and has talked about her “Common Sense Collection Plan” which is really funny because none of that is new or visionary because most of her plan is what we already do on a daily basis in my office. We are set to go ahead with on-line payments for the July 2010 payments, all records are public information available by phone or over the counter and will be able to be viewed by anyone once we are on-line, we accept credit/debit cards as well as telephone payments, we work with the delinquent tax committee, notify DMV of delinquent MV taxes and last but not least vigorously enforce collections among all tax evaders using all means necessary. Doesn’t sound new and visionary to me, sounds like Tax Collection 101.

October 30th, 2009

This Weekend: Halloween and Campaigning

by LonSeidman

Don’t forget to turn back your clocks at 2 am on Saturday night. We’ll finally get to see a little more brightness in the morning… but less in the evening. Candidates will finish their door-to-door knocking this weekend only to take a break for the kids to do their trick-or-treating Saturday evening. Remember, give candy to the kids, not the politicians! They might just go nuts (if they aren’t already)!

Wolcott Police are handing out glow sticks so kids can be visible on Halloween night. Remind all children to walk on the road FACING TRAFFIC and to cross the street at intersections and visible areas. All pedestrians should try not to wear dark clothing. Drivers, please obey all speed limits especially on Saturday night and be extra cautious.

Weather:
Friday: 57 degrees, breezy
Saturday: 70 and windy. Rain overnight
Sunday: clearing in the morning, 50s.

Here is a list of various events and reminders for this weekend:
Saturday
7:00 pm – Treat Night – Christ Church, 16 Townline Rd. (203 574-3075, contactoneills@aol.com

Sunday
8am – noon Lion’s Club Pancake Breakfast – Alcott School cafeteria

Mayor Dunn’s campaign wrap-up rally will take place at 4 pm at the VFW. The public is invited to attend the event which will include free food and drinks. Dunn, who is unnafilliated, is running against Democrat George Babcock. The election is Tuesday.

Sports this weekend:
Friday
Tyrrell Boys Soccer 3:30 vs. North End (home)
Wolcott HS Football will play in Watertown against the Indians at 7 pm.
Wolcott HS Girls’ Swim meet at home against Platt 3:45 pm

Saturday
10:00 – WHS JV Football vs. Watertown at home.
11:25 – Boys and Girls Cross Country Class M Championships – Wickham Park, East Hartford

October 29th, 2009

Glow In The Dark On Halloween

by LonSeidman

The days are getting shorter and will continue to do so until we finally get to change back our clocks in a few weeks. Until then, walking even in late evening can become more dangerous. This Saturday is Halloween though so we want to make sure our kids ae visible to passing traffic. On top of reminding drivers to drive slowly Halloween night, the Wolcott Police Dept. should be your first Halloween stop. There, you can pick up glow sticks for your child to wear as they visit neighbors.

The glow sticks are provided as a community service by the Exchange Club, said club member Sandy Marino. 500 are available at the police department. There will be a annual DARE Halloween dance party Friday night where Officer Bender will distribute an additional 500 glow sticks.

October 28th, 2009

Lions Host Pancake Breakfast Sunday

by LonSeidman

The Wolcott Lions Club will hold its annual pancake breakfast this Sunday from 8 am until 12 noon at Alcott School. The proceeds will benefit their high school scholarship fund and in past years they have served 400-500 breakfasts at this fundraiser. The scholarships are named in honor of past and present Lions Club members who have dedicated their time to the Club.

Some of those scholarships offered are the Lion Daniel Goffred Memorial Scholarship, The Lion Nicholas & Goria D’Agostino Scholarship, the Lion Brian Borghesi Memorial Scholarship, and the Lion Fred Musano Sr. Memorial Scholarship.

This year, the club presented their first Lion Robert Bouffard Memorial Scholarship. Lion Bob dedicated his efforts to giving every deserving student the opportunity to further their education.

There will be a raffle at the breakfast with tickets to the New Britain Rockcats and UConn basketball games. All past scholarship winners and their families are encouraged to attend this day so Lions members can hear what you’ve accomplished since high school graduation.

October 28th, 2009

Candidates’ Forum to Air

by LonSeidman

The Meet The Candidates’ forum which took place Wednesday evening, will be aired in a televised loop on Comcast Channel 96 this Saturday from 10 am until 8 pm.

Many interesting ideas were brought forth. There aer 60 candidates running for office. To assist the candidates in getting their message out, as well as for voters who would like to be better informed, I will be posting statements by candidates on why they are running for their office.

Any candidate who would like to do so is encouraged to e-mail me any statement they would like to have posted. Please limit it to less than 400 words. Simply answer this question: Why Should Voters Vote For You? You may draw in your experiences, proposals, criticisms, etc. Statements will be posted beginning late Friday evening. Late submissions will be posted as they are recieved. E-mail: cobrien7@hotmail.com

October 28th, 2009

Mythbusters: “Tax Rate Reduction Reintroduction”

by LonSeidman

Huh???

Yes, that’s double talk the Democratic Town Council used in their ad on page 40 of October’s Wolcott Community News. Actaully it the sixth item in a list of pledges that Democratic candidates promise to deliver if they are elected next Tuesday. That item reads:

“Reintroduce Our Tax Rate Reduction (Which was rejected by Council Republicans & Tom Dunn’s Independents 6/2/2009)”

What they are referring to is a budget proposal introduced by Councilmen Gentile and Santagotta to cut Mayor Dunn’s proposed budget by $73,000. The minutes from that meeting show that Republicans generally favored the Mayor’s budget as presented, which included a $1,100,000 reduction from last year’s budget. The motion was defeated 5-4 by Republicans and Independents.

A detailed summary of the Democrats’ proposal shows that they wanted to cut four line items that budgeted for fuel costs, police cruisers, reductions in services to senior citizens, and significant reductions in road paving and snow plowing. They also wanted a lower tax collection rate of 97.33% instead of 97.5% If their proposal passed, the mill rate could have been reduced by 0.01 mills. This would average out to be a $1.42 reduction for homeowners in Wolcott.

At the time the budget was being presented, gas was rising upwards until reaching its highest level this year. But, one year ago it was over $4.00 a gallon. Its incomprehensible why Democrats would propose reducing the budget for these costs with such a recent memory. One of these reductions would have meant less money available to fuel the senior citizen bus. Another would have cut money available for public works trucks during snow storms.

Proposed reductions at the police department would have impacted the maintanance budget for cruisers. No cruisers were purchased last year so that the Town could try squeezing an extra year of use from some older cars. The result was a shortage of cruisers at times. In September of this year, Wolcott signed a contract for new cruisers.

The proposal to reduce the paving by $10,000 was justified by comments that it wasn’t entirely spent last year. For some reason Democrats forgot that the Council unanimously approved transfering that $10,000 from paving to snow plowing. Last year’s winter had an average snowfall, but it was spread out over more storms than expected. Town crews need to be called out even if an inch or two of snow falls to make sure the streets are safe for travel. Other towns were in similar situations.

Given these significant cuts in relation to the return in a very minor tax decrease, voters shouuld question the wisdom of the Democrats “pofessional financial planning” they claim to have in their ad. In contrast, Mayor Dunn held negotiations with Town employees to reach an agreement to freeze wages in a difficult economic year. Republican Councilman O’Brien also attempted to get similar agreements from the education department. The result there was the Board of Education reaching savings through a furlough day.

October 28th, 2009

Meet The Candidates Tonight

by LonSeidman

The Junior Women’s Club of Wolcott invites all registered coters to attend “Meet the Candidates” in preparation for the upcoming election. This will take place at Tyrrell Schools Cafeteria tonight at 7:00 pm.

The Reigstrar of Voters will explain the voting procedure and present the full slate of candidates running for all the positions including Democrats, epublicans, and Petitioning Candidates. Theer are many political platforms and choices. This is the opportunity to meet each candidate. This is not a debate. An informal format will be established, followed by refreshments and time for questions and answers. The forum will be televised and rerun on Channel 96.

Be an informed vote on Nov. 3 by coming down to Meet the candidates. Invite your friends and neighbors.

source: Wolcott Community News, Oct. 2009

October 28th, 2009

Can You Fill A Pair of Boots?

by LonSeidman

An open house drill will be held Wednesday evening from 5p- 9pm at Wolcott Fire Company #3 on Lyman Rd. Anyone curious to see if they could fill in a pair of boots is welcome to attend. Free training, gear, and gym membership is provided to any volunteer. At the open house, you can try on some gea and participate in drill activities. Work with an air pack, structural firefighting equipment, and extrication gear. This will be hands on and will give you an opportunity to ask questions.

Any questions, contact Deputy Chief Steven Valenti at WolcottFD3@gmail.com

October 26th, 2009

Mythbusters: Not All Candidates Run With Dunn

by LonSeidman

Phone calls are being made, handshakes exchanged, and doors being knocked on by candidates all across town. As the town enters its final week of campaign activity, some residents have expressed confusion: Who’s running with whom? This article is intended to help clear that up. Bare with me though – it IS confusing.

Let’s get organized. There are FOUR groups out there. You have the two main political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. The Democrats have a candidate for mayor, George Babcock, and Lorraine McQueen is fighting to keep her job as Tax Collector. Republicans are staying out of these two races and instead are looking to lead the Town Council and Board of Education. When you look at the ballot, you’ll see a number of unfilled slots where the two major parties have not decided to fill a candidate. Other than that, the two parties are running fairly traditional campaigns.

What is unusual is that there appears to be a full slate of candidates on the third line of the ballot, Row C. When you go into the voting booth, you should note that this row is for “Petitioning Candidates” under the party label. This label is important. In order to get on the ballot, each of these candidates had to get signatures from voters to prove they can muster some support to be on the ballot. Traditionally, people who simply want to run for office apart from a major party, are registered as “unnaffiliated”, or cannot get a nomination from a major party will take this route to get on the ballot. Usually, these candidates have no relation to each other and for state regulations, they are placed on the next available line on the ballot.

Wolcott used to have an active Concerned Citizen Party. If they still were active, they would occupy line C, and petitioners would then be on Line D. But there is no active Concerned Citizens Party this year. Waterbury and Watertown have local parties that are registered with the state as the Independent Party. This party, like Republicans and Democrats, are organized, haev a financial and leadership structure. In contrast, those running as “unnaffiliated” generally run on their own resources and are uncoordinated.

So let’s look at the affilations on Wolcott’s “Row C”.

There are actually two groups. First, are the candidates that are simply running on their own, as is traditional. Those that do so are running on their own merits and think that running independently has some advantages. Mayor Dunn has followed this route since he amassed more votes than his Republican and Democratic opponents combined in first run for mayor in 2003. Two years ago a number of Town Council candidates, including Mike Bokon also ran independently of each other on this row. This year, Dunn, and 3rd District Town Council candidate Steven Olmstead continue to run independently. In fact, Dunn has repeatedly stated “I am not running a slate”. He has not endorsed any other candidate and has also stated that he would work with whomever the voters elect. Therefore, if you hear a Row C candidate say “I’m running on Tom Dunn’s slate”, they are mistaken. Yes, their name will just happen to fall on the same voting line… but they are not coordinating thier campaigns or necessarily agree upon the same issues.

Apart from Dunn, Olmstead, and Bokon, the rest of the candidates appear to be running together. But the term “together” should be asterisked. Candidates on the Row C line cannot form a joint finance committee to fund their campaign. Yet, most of them are coordinating their campaigns together under the leadership of businessman Bob Ficeto. Some residents have also asked if Row C candidates are actually members of a party. Yes, many of them are, but this shouldn’t be confused with colluding with a party or being endorsed or coordinated by a party. Most people affiliate themselves with a party simply to be able to vote in Presidential primaries or to affiliate themselves with national beliefs. Those beliefs tend not to resonate as well on the local level where the answers to issues are much more common and cross party lines. Anyone can run on the Row C line, no matter their party affiliation. In fact, 4 of the Row C candidates are actually Republicans, 5 are Democrats, and 7 are unnaffiliated. This breakdown correalates pretty well with the same breakdown of Wolcott voters who are about 50% unnaffiliated, 26% Republican and 24% Democrat.

Confused? Remember that confusion is one of the most affective campaign tactics.

Sometimes politicians use that tactic to get you to vote for them. Mayor Dunn is certainly popular, and if a candidate presents themself as affiliating with him, it may help them. In Waterbury the Republican party endorsed Democratic Mayor Mike Jarjura. Doing so automatically got them more help for their Alderman campaigns. Wolcott Republicans have usually worked closely with Dunn in the past, but have decided not to endorse him. Yet, the Republicans and Dunn share a building on Wolcott Rd. for their headquarters which might note how well the two work together. A wall does separate the two, however.

Despite the differences these alliances hold, there is still some commonality. Most “Row C” candidates – whether running together or not – and Republicans – have been taking similar aims. While the Row C crowd certainly has been more vocal than anyone this election cycle, both groups have taken aim at Democrats for proposing to cut fuel funding for the senior shuttle, and blame democrats for being too lax in overseeing various aspects of town government. Dunn has held himself above this fray simply explaining the positive accomplishments within his control and advocating for a Charter revision. Town Councilman Mike Perrone also has echoed that call, as has Democrat George Babcock but for different reasons.

In this sense, many candidates really are trying to distinguish themselves from their party and running independently.

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October 24th, 2009

Dunn Talks Issues On Ch 96

by LonSeidman

Unnafilliated mayoral candidate Tom Dunn is on Channel 96 today. Tune in and see why he’s running for re-election. He addresses some of challenger George Babcock’s ideas. The special will loop throughout Saturday.